Archives for July 2015

The 30-Day Writing & Publishing Project, Day 4: Daily Practice

{This post is inspired by illustrator David Litchfield’s Drawing a Day Project. Check out his Ted Talk about the project here.}

People asked me during the project, ‘How do you find the time to do this?’ … ‘How do you find the time to do what you love?’ . . . You find time. If you’re passionate about something and if you’ve got a goal then you find time – and in many cases you have to almost kind of create time.  ~ David Litchfield

When I decided to publish a new blog post each day for 30 days, I had no idea what the organizing principle for the project would be.

What topics would I write about? Would there be some kind of end point or logical destination I was trying to get to? Would there be a “framework” or a “hook,” a unifying theme that held the posts together? Would I even have time to write and publish something each day?

I have to say the answer to those questions is “no.”

While I would love to say that I thought all these things through thoroughly before embarking on this project, with my 30 days of content perfectly planned and organized, and the time required to write each day duly scheduled into my calendar, the truth is I just jumped in without knowing what the heck I’d be writing about from day to day, or with any idea of how it would fit into my busy schedule.

But as I mentioned in my Day One post, if I waited around until I had the “perfect” conceit on which to hang this thing, or loads of free time to devote to it, I would have never gotten started.

And since I have a long history of wanting to do this or that creative project, with many, many ideas collected in a Notepad document, most of which resulted in exactly no follow through, I knew what I had to do this time around: decide to do this thing, make an official declaration to a few people who would hold me accountable, and jump in with both feet, organized plan or no. So that’s what I did.

I believe that when we commit to doing something, the universe conspires to help us.

Or, to put it more eloquently . . .

At the moment of commitment the entire universe conspires to assist you. ~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

So I’ve found that plenty of inspiration for daily blog posts has come to me in the last few days, such as the Ted Talk linked at the beginning of today’s post. I’ve made a long-ish list of other possible topics as well, which I’ve been adding to daily.

In fact, I think, there’s no way I could write eloquently or well about all these ideas in 30 short days. In fact, right now I feel plum lousy with ideas. On the plus side, I’m sure some of them are dreadful, and in no danger of seeing the light of day here.

But what I want to say is that there’s magic in committing to something, even something as small as saying you will publish a new blog post daily for 30 days.

There’s magic in knowing you must show up to the page every day because you said you would, and because a few people believed in you enough to cheer you on and agree to check in on you from time to time. (Those people are angels, cheerleaders of the highest order.)

There’s magic in committing to your craft, even when you’re feeling bereft and out-of-sorts. And there’s very special magic in believing that practicing your craft daily will help pull you out of the dark-night-of-the-soul/I-feel-so-“meh”-about-everything slump you’ve been in for, oh, about a year now.

And it’s working.

It is working.

Small fragments of light are finding their way in.  

The 30-Day Writing & Publishing Project, Day 3: Reading is Everything

Books I'm reading now

 

“Reading is everything. Reading makes me feel I’ve accomplished something, learned something, become a better person. Reading makes me smarter. Reading gives me something to talk about later on. Reading is the unbelievably healthy way my attention deficit order medicates itself. Reading is escape, and the opposite of escape; it’s a way to make contact with reality after a day of making things up, and it’s a way of making contact with someone else’s imagination after a day that’s all too real. Reading is grist. Reading is bliss.”

~Nora Ephron, from the essay collection I Feel Bad About My Neck and Other Thoughts on Being a Woman

That’s one of my all-time favorite passages from one of my all-time favorite writers, and incidentally, exactly how I feel about reading too.

I am a buyer of books.  Hardcover and softcover, new and used. Not digital, usually.  I love reading old-school style after a day of sitting in front of my laptop for 8+ hours, the sensory experience of holding a real paper and ink book in my hands as I drink a cup of coffee, or a glass of wine, or some sparkling water with a splash of pomegranate juice. I love books unreservedly.

Are you a reader too?

I’ll bet you are.  Almost every creative person I’ve ever met is besotted with books and ideas, with discovery, with knowing more.  As creatives, we read to uncover new ideas, to find inspiration, and sometimes, for validation.  There are as many reasons to read as there are books, I’d wager.

I’ll share my current reading list with you here. These books are all on the bedside table now. Some I read from every day, others I dip into once or twice a week. And some I’m re-reading for the umpteenth time.

  • Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar, by Cheryl Strayed
  • Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget, by Sarah Hepola
  • Writing is My Drink: A Writer’s Story of Finding Her Voice (and a Guide to How You Can Too), by Theo Pauline Nestor
  • The Most of Nora Ephron, by Nora Ephron
  • Julie & Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously, by Julie Powell
  • This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, by Ann Patchett
  • The Book of Awakening: Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have, by Mark Nepo

(Then there’s the very long list of “Books to Buy Next” in the Notes app on my iPhone.  I reckon I’ve got about 50 books on that list. Wait. Yep, just counted, it’s 50.)

So how about you?  What’s on your nightstand right now, or on your Nook or Kindle or other reading device? If you feel called to, tell me in the comments below. I’m always on the lookout for wonderful new worlds to discover between the pages of a beloved book.

The 30-Day Writing & Publishing Project, Day 2: Writers Write

I'm a writer

I love the story Ann Patchett tells in “The Getaway Car,” an essay from her wonderful book, This Is The Story of a Happy Marriage, about making a commitment to her writing.

She and her husband are having dinner with friends, one of whom was a musician named Edgar. Patchett shares that she was traveling too much, giving too many talks, and not getting any writing done. Edgar commiserates – he was also doing a lot of traveling and not finishing the compositions he had due.

Edgar tells Patchett about a trick he used to get his work done: he decides to put a sign-in sheet on the door of his studio, where he writes down the time he enters the studio to compose, and the time he stops composing. The simple yet profound thing he finds, of course, is that the more hours he spent composing, the more compositions he finished.

As Patchett notes, “Time applied equaled work completed,” and says, “It’s possible to let the thinking about process become so overly analyzed that the obvious answer gets lost. I made a vow on the spot that for the month of January, I would dedicate a minimum of one hour a day to my chosen profession.”

She sticks with her commitment all of that January and into the rest of the year, and ends up doing “some of the best writing I’d done in a long time.” She notes, “I’m sure it worked in part because I already had a story in my head and I was ready to start writing, but it also worked because my life had gotten so complicated and I was in need of a simple set of rules.”

When I decided to commit to this 30-day writing project, I was in need of a simple set of rules.  Between client work, marketing my business, and the usual life obligations, my weekdays are ridiculously full. Many weekends find me working as well. Usually only if I’m on a client project deadline, but even when I’m not on a strict client deadline, I still generally spend all of Saturday doing business-related stuff. I fit writing in, but it’s typically writing to market my business – blog posts, newsletters, and guest posts for other sites, etc.  

And the writing I do that’s not related to my business? The “other” writing – essays, narrative non-fiction, etc. – that I love? I spend time on that too, but only after all of the above is done, which means not too damn often.

So while in the throes of this dilemma and the beating-up-of-myself over it, which happens to show up regularly, I sought solace in the best place there is for right advice on writing and the creative process: other writers.

Because it’s universal, right? We all struggle with the same thing. This quandary is common to all creative people trying to practice their craft – when life gets in the way, how do you find the time?

Today I found the answer while re-reading Ann Patchett’s “The Getaway Car.”

If you’re a creative person who also feels challenged by the time puzzle, I hope Patchett’s words will inspire you the way they’ve inspired me:

Now when people tell me they’re desperate to write a book, I tell them about Edgar’s sign-in sheet. I tell them to give this great dream that is burning them down like a house fire one lousy hour a day for one measly month, and when they’ve done that—one month, every single day—to call me back and we’ll talk. They almost never call back. Do you want to do this thing? Sit down and do it. Are you not writing? Keep sitting there. Think of yourself as a monk walking the path to enlightenment. Think of yourself as a high school senior wanting to be a neurosurgeon. Is it possible? Yes. Is there some shortcut? Not one I’ve found. Writing is a miserable, awful business. Stay with it. It is better than anything in the world.

Here’s to putting our creative projects back on the daily to-do list and devoting time each day to working on them. Word!

The 30-Day Writing & Publishing Project, Day 1: Commit

Commit

Image by quicksandala

I’ve probably read the book Julie & Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously at least 10 times.

There are many reasons for this:

I love the story of how Julie Powell blogged her way to a different life – from boring job as a government secretary to full-fledged national best-selling author after “The Julie/Julia Project,” her blog documenting her year of cooking her way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, blew up.

I love her sense of humor; reading her book always makes me feel better if I’m in a foul mood, even when I’m not at all interested in laughing.

I love that she was an ordinary person who decided to do something rather extraordinary, and created a wonderful new career out of it.

But I think most of all, I love it because it’s the story of someone deciding to commit to something daunting – whipping up French food every night for a year, and getting up in the wee hours to write about it each morning before hauling herself off to a soul-sucking job – and seeing it through, even when it was hard, even when it would have been easier quit and go back to sleeping an extra hour each day. (I don’t think I would have lasted 3 days of her herculean project.)

And each time I re-read the book, as I’m doing now, I get a hankering to do a “project” of my own. I want desperately to find something I can commit to doing and writing about, and actually see through, just to prove to myself that I can.

This urge is powerful. I’ll wake up each morning while re-reading the book and brainstorm ideas for something similar I could do. I’ll root around in my notes and scribblings, searching through every corner of my hard drive, seeking inspiration. I’ll write notes in my journal about it, I’ll open up a Word doc and start tippety tappety typing away, in an attempt to freewrite my way to a grand idea. I’ll do an Internet search for people doing similar projects of their own.

But over the years I’ve done the re-reading of the book and the brainstorming of the project ideas, I’ve never come up with anything I believe will hold my attention long enough to make a solid commitment to. And I’m not talking about for a year, mind you. No, I’m thinking more like 30 days. 

And so I ask myself, what does it say about me that I can’t find something interesting enough to commit to and write about for just 30 short days? I find this fact about myself disheartening.

(Also: I tried to do 30 straight days of blogging once before, and quit after, hmm, I believe it was 3 days. My excuse? I felt like I had no bandwidth to write my own stuff because of how much writing I was doing for my copywriting clients at the time. Could have gotten out of bed an hour earlier to make it happen, of course, but alas, did not.)

Anyhoo.

I’ve been thinking about it and thinking about it, and I have decided . . . . ta dah . . . that  every day for the next 30 days, starting today, I will publish a new blog post. My commitment is to write, just to write, no other conceit or “hook” necessary (unless I come up with something interesting), for my 30-Day Writing & Publishing Project.

It’s not enough to write every day, because I do that already, whether it’s sales-generating web copy for clients, my copywriting and marketing tips newsletter, guest posts on other sites, essays in my secret-hidden-away writing folder, or scrawlings in my journal. 

No, the key here to publish something new to this blog each day for 30 days. That is the success metric.

I have no idea what this will look like – the length of the posts, the topics, overarching themes or ideas I want to cover, whether the content will contain marketing and copywriting lessons, or be totally unrelated to those things, etc. But, to use some Oprah-speak I happen to love, “what I know for sure” is that if I wait around for an organizing principle, I will never get started.

So today I start; on Sunday August 16, I finish.

And so it is.